Jeremy Leinen, CEC, Executive Chef of Dunwoody CC, explains his strategic process to bring new cooks into his kitchen and keep them engaged and effective in their new role.
Hiring new employees is without question one of the most stressful parts of being a chef. From posting ads, to sifting through resumes, to scheduling interviews to finally deciding on who to hire, there’s a lot of time and energy spent in this process. Every chef I know has spoken of the difficulty of it with one of the chief frustrations being that applicants simply don’t show up for interviews far too often. I don’t think anybody really has any big secret to perfecting this, and I certainly don’t claim to have one either. I can speak to what I typically look for in the process.
To begin with, we need to sift through resumes. I think most of us look for similar things: experience in establishments that translates well to our operation. Experience can vary, but I have not had much luck hiring from corporate/chain type establishments. Between the typical practice in these places to not be “from scratch” operations or that they often have prep cooks with line cooks doing little of their own prep, these hires have not been successful for me. Obviously, most chefs are happy to teach skills but that’s hard to do when the person on the learning end sees it as “too much work.”
Beyond the obvious experience/skill aspect, we’re generally looking for some amount of stability in their resume. It’s pretty acceptable for cooks to change jobs after about a year. It’s one of the best ways to learn and diversify your experience. But applicants showing a pattern of spending less than a year in a job can be a red flag.
Once we find applicants that have the kind of experience that fits for us and has shown some stability, it’s time to schedule interviews.
For the sake of argument, let’s skip the scenarios where the applicant doesn’t show up for the interview. This happens far too often- I recently had a week where only one of my scheduled eight interviews showed up. Once they’re here, what am I looking for? Think of it as you may, but first impressions matter to me. I’m speaking of how they’re dressed for the interview. I don’t have a strict standard on this. They don’t need to wear a suit, but I do expect some modicum of effort.
I recently had an applicant show up in jeans and a t-shirt and I politely explained that I would not be able to proceed with an interview due how they were dressed. In a nutshell, just show me you’re trying to make some effort toward presenting as a professional. During the interview, I always give a tour of the Club and have the applicant speak with at least one of my sous chefs. Obviously, it’s important for my role in the interview to give as much information as I can to make sure the applicant knows what to expect when working here. That said, I pay close attention to what kinds of questions they ask me as that tells me a lot. Do they ask to see the menu? Do they ask about doing specials or other ways to potentially learn new things? Do they ask about how expectations are communicated? What interest do they show in the day-to-day of the job aside from pay rate, when we get paid, benefits, etc? Basically, are they just looking for a job or are they actually passionate about cooking?
To be clear, sometimes beggars can’t be choosers and you can only hire from the applicant pool you have and that dream candidate may not be available. In the end, somebody without aspirations of being a chef isn’t automatically disqualified- after all, people that show up and just get the job done have their place in the industry as well.
Once interviews are done and the hire is made, a start date is set and onboarding begins. We get the administrative type stuff done first including paperwork, issuing uniforms and explaining basic day to day policies like how to clock in, break times and employee meal. After that, we get to work in training them on their station. We use standardized tools but the training process can vary a bit from one person to another. One individual might be able to learn a station in as little as one shift, whereas another may need three to four.
Ultimately, we want all hires to be successful so we’re flexible with them on offering the amount of training they need to be successful. Every station in the kitchen has a dedicated binder with the menu, a list of all items needed for the station (grouped by dish), all recipes needed for that station, as well as spec sheets for each menu item produced from that station with a picture of each dish. I’ve found having these binders makes my job so much easier. Having the necessary information for each station condensed and organized into easily accessible form—and each station having its own binder so nobody has to share—goes a long way toward simplifying the training process and just makes the day-to-day of working that station easier and more efficient.
This is a solid start, but the Ronco “set it and forget it” onboarding and training system still doesn’t exist. Chefs know full well that showing somebody something once is rarely the end of it. Training isn’t a one-and-done type of thing. Certain dishes or techniques might have to be retaught and the whole process may need to be revisited in some cases.
Onboarding a new staff member is similar to most relationships; It takes work and some nurturing to set things on the right path.
Overall, with the interview process and the training tools we provide and the time we spend in training new cooks, it’s rare that we aren’t successful in getting off to a good start.